FALLUJAH, Iraq -- It started out just like every other patrol, with a mission brief, rehearsal, and individual mission priorities established prior to leaving friendly lines and heading deep into the city.
But this mission required much more than weapons, gear, and vehicles, it demanded smiles and helping hands.
Marines assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, recently spent hours handing out toys, candy, and hygiene items to the local children and citizens of Fallujah, while keeping constant awareness for possible insurgent threats in the area.
“It is very important that we do this for the young ones out there,” said Lance Cpl. Gulaid S. Ismil, an infantryman who was in charge of handing out hundreds of items to the children. “It shows them that we are not only an iron fist, but also a caring hand for them.”
A team of heavily armed Marines set up security, ready to fight off anything that interrupted their schedule. Others welcomed every child in sight to the inside of their secured area.
The Marines knew the dangers of the mission. Although delighted to help the little ones and give to the community, they would be exposed to the enemy while stopped to help.
“Once you leave the wire, your mindset is to meet violence with violence,” Ismil said, from Hardford, Conn. “It is tough and the mission is a difficult one. Someone could be aiming in on you at anytime so you want to make yourself a hard target, but you also want to give all your attention to the kids.”
“It’s almost like a switch that you have to be able to turn on and off at a moment’s notice,” added Staff Sgt. Joey M. Davis, a 28-year-old platoon sergeant with C Company from Wichita Falls, Texas. “Being a Marine and busting down doors, to seconds later being caring and compassionate can be the hardest thing.”
Stuffed animals, hair brushes, and puzzles were only a few of the things that the local children held in their small hands after approaching the Marines.
“In America, we are much more used to the little things in life,” said Cpl. Elijah J. Shepard, a 26 year-old team leader with C Company, from Torrington, Conn. “Here, they don’t get or have those little things and they seem to be much more appreciative.”
Children held their hands open as the Marines shouldered their weapons and got close to them. From waddling toddlers to teenagers, the kids smiled and laughed with pockets full of chocolate and assorted candy while interacting with the friendly warriors.
“There are no words to describe what it is like,” Davis explained when asked how it felt to give to the needy children. “It feels great but also discomforting as a father myself to see the kids so happy. It is sad that their parents just cannot provide these things for them.”
“In a war zone there isn’t a whole lot for them, but for those few minutes we were able to give them something that they will remember about us,” he added.
The gift giving Marines traveled to two different neighborhoods in the city and visited with more than a hundred children, each walking away with something for themselves to enjoy.
“One little girl came up and asked me for a toothbrush,” 27-year-old Ismil said. “To me, that was like ‘wow.’ It is a genuine feeling to see the little ones walk away so happy after I hand them a piece of candy or something so small as a toothbrush.”
A vehicle was designated as the ‘toy truck’ and its entire troop carrying area was emptied in Fallujah to those who will grow up to shape the democratic Iraq.
“I hope that when they get older they will be able to look back and remember what we did for them,” Shepard said. “These kids are someday going to be the leaders of this country.”
After the toys and goods were all gone and the children smiling, the Marines regrouped to patrol back to their forward operating base. The day’s work helped the local citizens be at ease with the troop’s presence, but also helped the Marines learn more about themselves.